A few years ago, Leanne Joyce was sitting in a waiting room at Duke Children’s Hospital before hearing some test results, and she was feeling pretty down about it.
Some volunteers came by and offered her a cheery gift, and that small gesture had an enormous impact, right then and there, on the Chapel Hill girl’s life.
“It made me feel really good, and I wanted to give back,” she said. “I decided the best way to do that would be to start my own nonprofit.”
So in 2011 she started Positive Impact for Kids, an organization that buys items to fulfill the wish lists of hospitalized children in North Carolina and beyond. A lot of what the nonprofit has given out so far, after raising about $10,000 from grants, fundraising events and private donations, has been gift cards. Young patients use them to buy music or games to pass the time or for clothing or makeup that provide a boost to self-esteem, said Leanne. Positive Impact for Kids has also donated iPads, which patients can use to keep up with schoolwork or with friends, craft supplies and video games.
“Some are in the hospital on their birthdays, or if they’re older they’ll miss a prom or something important in their life,” said Leanne, 14. “So it relieves a lot of anxiety and stress. It just lets them feel normal.”
She’s too young to be able to distribute the gifts she collects personally, but she gets reports from the 14 hospitals in 11 states that work with Positive Impact for Kids that say the items are appreciated. In some cases, apps on iPad Minis from the organization have helped young children remain calm during medical procedures, said Leanne’s mother, Ellen Joyce. Another gift recipient was recovering after the Boston Marathon bombing.
Running a nonprofit is a lot of work – “I’m up pretty late,” Leanne said – but her passion hasn’t ebbed after two years. In fact, the work has also been a gift to her after a congenital heart condition put an abrupt stop to her competitive jump-rope career. Leanne, now an eighth-grader at Culbreth Middle School, went from being a nationally ranked jump-roper to having a lot of time on her hands.
“It was beyond heartbreaking, it was really hard” to give up jump-roping, she said. But she found that running a nonprofit “was a really good way to fill my free time.”
Now, she writes grants, arranges fundraisers, coordinates gift donations and even runs board meetings.
“Anything she can do, she does” for the organization, her mother said. “This is her nonprofit.”
Leanne channeled the energy she once put toward athletic competitions into Positive Impact for Kids, and it had a positive impact on her, too.
“When her life was turned upside down … she had to rebuild her entire identity,” Ellen Joyce said. “The next morning after she was given that news, she woke up and said, ‘Mom, I need to look ahead at what I can do and not back at what I can’t.’”
These days, Leanne has a wish list of her own.
“I want to raise $100,000 by my high school graduation,” she said, “and I also want to be a household name as a nonprofit.”